Floating Market: Visit Bangkok's Damnoen Saduak

Day trip from Bangkok

Touring the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is one item on both our bucket lists! I had this romantic notion of women selling wares to each other along a canal, where I picture an intimate community market in boats. A glimpse into a lifestyle is being sold, as a must-see. It’s a nice notion, but not exactly the reality of our experience.

Touring the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is one item on both our bucket lists! Come along as we explore the boats, vendors, foods & sights along the way.
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On a sort-of-side-topic, have I mentioned that Steve and I make bucket lists when we travel? We do, both of us. It can be hand-written or in a shared spreadsheet. Either way is fine, because the point is to simply make a list of items that excite us about the area we’re visiting.

Floating market and keeping our marriage floating too!

We create lists, then we compare them and decide which items to try to tick off. We also talk about what will make the trip a success or a failure for each of us. It sounds weird, but it’s something we began when we first started exploring the global world, with our first trip to Italy years back.

Sometimes it’s the little things that will make a trip a huge success, for instance, on my Bangkok list I wrote “grilled bananas”. Reading about them on several different blogs created a Pavlovian instinct in me…must try, must try. I knew not trying them would create disappointment for me, so we tried them! And they were okay, meh. You may notice that they didn’t make my top 10 Bangkok street food post though, so they weren’t the end all. So what does all this have to do with a floating market? Well, I’m getting there, but I wanted to share a little about what keeps our relationship floating too!

Create a bucket list for travel activities! My Bangkok Bucket List!
My bucket list for Bangkok

Boating along the canal

Part of the fun of visiting the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is the long-tail boat ride to get there, because it’s a glimpse into regular life along the canals. From a huge temple with a 25 foot Buddha to laundry hanging on a porch, we viewed all sides of family life in our short ride. I enjoyed the houses, while I felt a bit dismayed by the garbage drifting along.

Manicured gardens brought smiles to my lips, as did all the cats lounging on porches. My goodness they’re lazy in the heat! I don’t think I took any pictures, because frankly, you can’t walk ten feet in Thailand without stepping over a cat. So fun! It’s probably also very peaceful here in the afternoon and evenings when the canals aren’t overrun with tourists. Perfect for a cat nap.

My disillusionment with the Floating Market

Being completely honest, the twenty minute boat ride to the Floating Market may have been my favorite part of the whole thing. Yes, go to the market. Yes, it’s an experience, but it wasn’t as authentic as I had hoped for. I longed to see it unspoiled by tourists, which can no longer be realistic. Understanding that even though Damnoen Saduak is the first floating market in the Bangkok area doesn’t exactly mean that it operates in the same manner and with the same kinds of customers as it did even twenty or thirty years ago. Today the customers are Steve and I and lots of other tourists. Locals sell items, but this is not the market where locals buy items. Having a realistic expectation of the market would have probably helped me enjoy it more.

Selfies with snakes and slow loris

Okay, this aspect of the Floating Market definitely hurts my heart. In several locations, men and women held huge snakes or tiny little slow loris for tourists to take a selfie with. I don’t care for zoos or for animals in captivity for the sport of humans, so this practice isn’t a happy one for me. That being clear, I did take a picture of the snakes, and if you look closely you can see that little monkey thing in the woman’s hand. I had to Google it to find the name. Here’s a photo of it and some info from the San Diego Zoo. I wonder how much of their lives those snakes actually spend in the plastic boxes. Makes me feel sad, even though I don’t really care for snakes.

My enjoyment at the Floating Market

Just because it wasn’t what I expected, doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy myself on this outing. I sure did! The market is colorful and bustling and I especially love that many (most?) of the boat vendors were mature women. I really enjoyed seeing them interact with one another, so I tried capturing their beauty but likely failed. Here are a few of my faves.

These ladies are the reason the Floating Market is on my Bangkok Bucket List. In the same way that I previously mentioned Steve and I enjoy making our own backstory for the street food vendors, I enjoyed contemplating the lives of these boat owners and vendors. I tried to picture them in the houses we’d passed along the canals, imagining a simpler life where the market originally existed for them to exchange wares. It left me wondering what changes they’ve actually seen during their lifetimes along these waterways.

Colors of the market

The colors in the market were a little startling next to the dark brownish water, and I quite enjoyed the contrast. Many of the boats sported bright umbrellas, a small shield from the heat of the morning. The stalls along the docks were awash with brightly colored clothing and artwork. One art stall contained a fairly common kind of painting that we previously saw at Chatuchak Weekend Market (read about that market here). It’s a sort of abstract representation of life around Thailand, which speaks to me. The picture with the monks below is fantastic to me, because of the whole monk-stalking issue I have.

The vendors attract me

Food stalls, clothing stalls, basically any kind of stall has a vendor in front of it inviting tourists to come in and eat or buy or get a “mmmaaaaaaaaaaaassage” (seriously the word massage is drawn out sooooo long!). One young man sat and cut up plastic bags, putting the scraps into another larger bag for the entire time I watched. I don’t understand what that was all about. Steve and I have chatted between ourselves about the success rate of the loud invitations.

For introverts, I’m likely to pass that stall entirely and enter one where no one wants to speak to me. In grocery stores, I will almost always choose pre-packaged meat, instead of standing at the butcher counter asking for the cuts I want. So I’m uncertain if this hawking approach to sales is effective or if even the most extroverted person is turned off by it. I do, however, like to sit quietly and watch them, I could do that all day!

Floating Market chaos

Another thing I love about Damnoen Saduak market is how crowded and chaotic it is. Okay, I know that flies in the face of me disliking the inauthentic vibe, however I really did like the thickness of the boats in the water. At one point, I thought I could likely skip across boats from one dock to the other. I like the idea of an old-fashioned, local floating market, but I also really like the reality of watching the chaos.

Boat traffic jam! Touring the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is one item on both our bucket lists! Come along as we explore the boats, vendors, foods & sights along the way.
Crowds of tourist & vendor boats

Boats & shops of the floating market

Boats come in varying sizes, and no motor use is allowed in this particular portion of the canals. It’s fantastic to see the mix of world-wide tourists and locals. I like how vendors, parked a boat or two from shore, use long poles to transport goods and receive cash. In the picture below, a man bought bananas and the boat vendor sent them to him on the stick. Then he popped his money in the bucket and she pulled it back in. Do you think that beautiful lady in her boat is her mother? I think it’s her mother-in-law, not sure why, but I do. Handing over the business as time passes.

Bucket commerce! Touring the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is one item on both our bucket lists! Come along as we explore the boats, vendors, foods & sights along the way.
Exchanging cash for bananas

We noticed a boat pulled over to a “purse shop”, which was super fun to see. I’m not sure why, but I expected all the commerce to happen on the water, from boats. I wasn’t necessarily prepared for the shops along the canal that a boat can pull over to. We learned from our guide that we should only touch items that we purchase. Touching an item without purchase means to the vendor that the item has lost value and will now have a harder time selling. I don’t think it’s because we’re foreigners, I think that Thais don’t touch things without purchasing either.

Buying purses at a dockside shop. Pull your boat right up. Jump in and see the market.
Tourists buy purses at a floating shop

Selfies without snakes!

And just to be good tourists, we also took pictures of each other at the floating market. We’re both currently sporting sunburns, so it’s nice to look back a couple weeks at photos of ourselves without red foreheads. Ha!

As our time at the Floating Market came to an end, I wondered if I would return. The answer is no, but I am definitely glad we went. I’m actually already looking at another one to visit in Vietnam, but this time I’ll try to be more realistic in my expectations!

Touring the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is one item on both our bucket lists! Come along as we explore the boats, vendors, foods & sights along the way.
Pin me!

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